‘GDPR for AI’ gets green light as EU passes new Act

EU Building new 2The European Union has stolen a march on the regulation of artificial intelligence by passing the AI Act, in a move which experts claim could follow GDPR in setting the global standard for the technology.

While the UK Government dithers, the European Parliament has approved the world’s first major set of regulatory rules to govern AI, providing a legal framework for the development and use of the technology in the EU, calling for greater transparency as well as setting parameters for high-risk AI.

Following heavy lobbying from tech companies, who were concerned tools such as ChatGPT might be stifled, the Act sets out a tiered approach instead of horizontal regulation, based on how risky applications of the tech are deemed and sets different deadlines for implementing the various requirements.

EU officials had struck a provisional deal in December, having first started work on the legislation in April 2021 and, while it will not be applicable in the UK, any British firm which trades in the EU will have to toe the line.

The Act divides up the technology into risk categories and highlights what is prohibited when it comes to AI, key requirements for using high-risk AI and penalties. Ultimately, the Act aims to balance innovation with fundamental rights.

In its release announcing the vote, the European Parliament offered several examples of high-risk AI, such as “critical infrastructure, education and vocational training, employment, essential private and public services (e.g. healthcare, banking), certain systems in law enforcement, migration and border management, justice and democratic processes (e.g. influencing elections)”.

The Act also states that users should be informed when interacting with a chatbot, and it requires AI systems that generate or manipulate text, image, audio or video content (such as a deep-fake tool) to disclose that the content has been artificially generated or manipulated.

The regulation is expected to come into force at the end of the legislature in May, after passing final checks and receiving endorsement from the European Council.  Some uses of AI, such as algorithm-based social scoring, will be prohibited by the end of 2024. Under the current timeline, full implementation will come in 2026.

Internal Market Committee co-rapporteur Brando Benifei described the Act as “the world’s first binding law on artificial intelligence to reduce risks, create opportunities, combat discrimination and bring transparency”.

He added: “Thanks to Parliament, unacceptable AI practices will be banned in Europe and the rights of workers and citizens will be protected,” adding that an AI Office will now be set up to support companies to “start complying with the rules before they enter into force”.

Legal experts have hailed the Act as a major milestone for international AI regulation, predicting it could pave the path for other countries to follow suit.

Steven Farmer, partner and AI specialist at international law firm Pillsbury, said: “Once again, it’s the EU that has moved first, developing a very comprehensive set of regulations.

“The bloc moved early in the rush to regulate data, giving us GDPR, which we are seeing a global convergence towards. The AI Act seems to be a case of history repeating itself.”

Meanwhile, HubSpot EMEA vice-president of sales Flavia Colombo commented: “Artificial intelligence is already a big part of our daily lives but we’ll now have clear guardrails in place to ensure it’s being used ethically.

“Businesses will feel safer knowing the risks have been considered by policymakers and this will help encourage more widespread communication about current limitations and benefits when it comes to AI and therefore better real-life use cases that can be implemented faster.

“But we should be wary of regulation that doesn’t keep pace with constantly evolving technology. Things are changing every day – at some point, the curve will flatten out, but until then legislation should be flexible enough to complement these advances.”

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